Archives For Easter

“Why it was wonderful!  Why, all
At once there were leaves,
Leaves at the end of a dry
Stick, small, alive
Leaves out of wood.  It was

Librarian of the Congress, Pulitzer Prize winner, and Modernist poet, Archibald MacLeish reminds me, “It was Wonderful!” Leaves alive out of wood! This is the moment of Spring, the moment for which most have been waiting. This is also for many a holy moment in the year. I am not using holy as an abstract of an orthodoxy that binds a special resurrection today. But rather holy from the Old English hālig, which means whole; complete and unbroken. That thing which is complete unto itself. I know that ‘thing” as Goddess. She that breathes inspiration, births and nurtures and destroys time. Her face is many; Her stories unbroken. And, She rises every day.

Spring flowers. Photo: Jason Thomas Pitzl.

[Photo: J. Pitzl.]

MacLeish continues…

“You can’t imagine.  They came
By the wood path
And the earth loosened, the
Relaxed, there were
Out of the earth! Think of it!’

Goddess is expansive in Her generative invitation to transform. I see this in the shedding of the old at winter and like the Earth, herself, in the loosening and relaxing into the birth of Spring. This resurrection through nature is more than the ‘born again’ that is taught within holidays like Easter. It is instead, what means to be born within. It is the holiness of what it means to be complete unto ourselves. When I think of Goddess, I am speaking beyond the liminal space of one deity form and beyond the container that holds named praxis. Here in this space, we are greater than the sum of Pagan, Polytheist, Heathen, Monist, and even Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Muslim or more. Here the Earth is loosened, and simply, we are one with the flowers.

‘And oak trees
Oozing new green at the tips of
Them and flowers
Squeezed out of clay, soft
Flowers, limp
Stalks flowering.  Well, it was like
A dream.’

As the Earth forms anew right now,  the clay is ripe with possibility, with radical transformation, inspiration, and even hope. The hope that welcomes all women as reflection of the Goddess. The inspiration to manifest the life you want to live and the transformation to look at the Earth as sacred, right now.

Spring flower. Photo by Jason Thomas Pitzl.

[Photo by J.Pitzl]

The Earth never lies. From even the most harrowing chaos and destruction, even when caused by Earth, She always regenerates. Spring is Her Promise. Whatever is planted, if nurtured, will bloom. From the limp, there will be stalking flowers. And I can see the tips of this dream in this perfect moment. We stand at the precipice of change. How will you answer?

MacLeish’s poem ends…

“It happened so quickly, all of a
It happened.”

It’s happening right now. So quickly. Goddess has been here, at the doorstep inviting all into the wholeness of holy, complete and unbroken; Into the dream, alongside the earth, and it is wonderful!

2014-04-19 16.39.54

[Photo Credit: H. Greene]

*   *   *

  1. Collected poems, 1917-1982 Archibald MacLeish – Houghton Mifflin – 1985

“All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.”
W.B. Yeats

Public Domain

Easter Proclamation of 1916. [Public domain.]

On Easter Monday (April 24) of 1916, the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizens’ Army and Cumann na mBan launched an armed insurrection against British rule, seized the General Post Office in Dublin and several other locations, and proclaimed the Irish Republic. The Easter Rising, as the rebellion is now known, was suppressed by the British Army and sixteen of its leaders were executed. One hundred years later, numerous commemorative events have been scheduled in Ireland for Easter Week (Easter Sunday falls on March 27 this year) and following months.

I interviewed P. Sufenas Virius Lupus and Morpheus Ravenna, two Polytheists living in the United States who worship gods and heroes of Irish origin, to ask their thoughts about the centennial of the rising. I also contacted two Irish Pagans who I was told had expressed interest in participating in the interview, but as of time of publication, have not yet received responses to my questions.

HC: Do you honor any of the individuals or groups who participated in the Easter Rising of 1916, religiously or otherwise? How do you frame that honoring or veneration? Do you have any plans for the 100th anniversary of the rising that you wish to share?

PSVL: Padraig Pearse is one of the Sancta/e/i of the Ekklesía Antínoou, whom we honor for a variety of reasons: his dedication to the revival of Irish culture, his role in the fight for Irish independence and freedom and his heroic death in that struggle, and also because he is what might be considered “queer” in our own terms, despite being celibate for life (to everyone’s current knowledge). He is not an entirely unproblematic figure in any of these regards, certainly, but very few of our Sancta/e/i are, and while I’d prefer not to focus on those problematic aspects at present, nonetheless I think this bears mentioning lest anyone think we have any illusions in this regard. I plan to not only mark the occasion “officially” in April, as many will be around the world, but I also plan to visit the GPO in Dublin on March 21st when I am in Ireland for a conference this year. I carry a coin in my pocket on a daily basis — which I also do for various other deities and hero/ines as a reminder of my devotion to them – -that has Cú Chulainn on one side of it and Padraig Pearse on the other, which was a commemorative piece of currency issued in Ireland in 1966; I will likely see if I can get something similar while I’m in Ireland this year, too, so that I can gift them to others who are engaged in cultus to various modern Irish heroes, Sancta/e/i, and to Cú Chulainn (if indeed they are engraved on the same pieces once again!).

Padraig Pearse. Public domain.

Padraig Pearse. [Public domain.]

MR: In my practice, I offer ongoing veneration to a group of spirits I refer to as the Warrior Dead. These are spirits of warrior and military individuals from a wide spectrum of times and places, who have been brought into my practice by way of my devotional relationship with the Morrígan as a goddess of war (among other things). Spirits of Irish revolutionary fighters are certainly among them. In other words, I honor them collectively, but not highlighting any specific individuals by name among the fighters of the Easter Rising.

HC: The relationship between a specific land and the members of cultural diasporas originating in said land is always complicated, but especially so when there are ongoing political conflicts and/or struggles for cultural preservation and survival being considered. Can you speak to that, specifically with Ireland and the 1916 rising in mind?

PSVL: I’ve always found the relationship between Irish-Americans and actual Irish history and politics to be even stranger than the relationship between the people of Ireland in modern times and their own history, culture, and mythology. On the one hand, Irish-Americans are deeply invested in “all things Irish” a great deal of the time, and their ancestry is a source of pride, which comes about from the very deep and hurtful persecutions they endured when they came to the U.S. in the post-Great Hunger period of the mid-1800s and the resulting defiant psychological stance as coping mechanism in which this can result. On the other hand, there is a great deal of misinformation, ignorance, and even a lack of desire for getting to know things better amongst Irish-Americans, which no doubt springs from similar situations, in which Irish culture, the Irish language, and other things were taken as “backwater” and detrimental baggage for their lives in the diaspora, especially in British and British-influenced cultures like the U.S. of the 1800s happened to be, and the internalized shame the persecution of Irish culture created. If it’s a leprechaun (or maybe a banshee), green beer or corned beef and cabbage, Irish-Americans love it and eat it up; if it’s Cú Chulainn and Finn mac Cumhaill, Guinness and real Irish whiskeys, or soda bread and boxty, one is likely to get as little interest in these things amongst Irish-Americans as amongst the non-Irish. While 1916 represents “Irish freedom” and “Irish independence” to a large extent for some Irish-Americans, it often does so in a vague fashion, and apart from mentions of it in The Cranberries’ “Zombie” and perhaps the folk song “The Foggy Dew,” the realities of the situation and the aftermath of it are far less clear in many people’s minds. As an undergraduate, I was invited to my college’s Irish-American Student Organization trip into New York City for an “Irish cultural fair;” it turned out to be a Sinn Féin rally. To say that these things are quite different from one another, and that many people who went didn’t seem to understand that there is a difference, is an example of how difficult this situation is for many Irish-Americans, I think, is an understatement, but it is an understandable error, since coverage of Irish and Irish-American history is seriously lacking, even at the collegiate level, throughout the U.S.

MR: One of my Irish friends, in a conversation about Ireland’s history of resistance, commented to me that there was only ever one invasion, the Norman invasion from Britain, and that all the subsequent conflicts up through to the struggle for independence in the 20th century had been the continuation of that conflict. Looked at from this perspective, you can look at the Easter Rising and the Irish Revolution as the fruit of centuries of resistance. I also observe that the foundational tales and sagas that we as Celtic polytheists look to for our mythology (the Book of Invasions, the Second Battle of Mag Tuired, etc.) carry this strong theme of invasion and conflict for sovereignty, and that many of these foundational stories were committed into written literature from the oral tradition during the time period of the Norman conquest, when the people of Ireland were themselves living through a period of invasion, resistance, and conflicts for sovereignty. So this theme seems deeply ingrained in Irish spirituality as we know it today. I’m not sure you can separate Irish culture and spirituality from the historical experience of resistance.

I’m a practitioner of Celtic polytheism drawing deeply on Irish culture and history in my practice, but I’m also very aware that I’m not Irish-born, and have not lived their experience nor been part of that landscape. I’m a product of a different history. I think as members of a devotional diaspora we have to tread very carefully around this. It’s natural for people like me to have feelings and sympathies that align us with one side or another in political conflicts like the struggle for Irish nationalism, but I think we need to practice a lot of discernment about how we act from those sympathies, and to ensure that we’re not projecting our own ideas as outsiders into their struggles. I feel a lot of sympathy for the notion of Irish liberation from British rule, but I also know it’s a very complex situation that I can know only the barest outlines of. So when it comes to ongoing political issues in Ireland, I regard it as my role to support my Irish friends in their understanding of their own sovereignty.

[Courtesy Photo Brennos Agricunos]

Cu Chulainn statue with crow on shoulder, General Post Office, Dublin [courtesy photo Brennos Agrocunos]

HC: The Dublin General Post Office famously (at least in my mind) contains Oliver Sheppard’s statue of Cú Chulainn, with the crow on his shoulder. Padraig Pearce was a devout Catholic who urged the Irish people to call upon “the dear God who loves the people/For whom he died naked, suffering shame,” but he also declared the story of Cú Chulainn “to be the finest epic stuff in the world,” arguing that Cú Chulainn possessed “a love and a service so excessive that one must give all, must be willing always to make the ultimate sacrifice.” James Connolly was a socialist who wrote that socialism “leaves the building up of religious ideals or faiths to the outside public, or to its individual members if they so will. It is neither Freethinker nor Christian, Turk nor Jew, Buddhist nor Idolator, Mahommedan nor Parsee – it is only human.”

The occultist and poet William Butler Yeats, who did not participate in the rising, wrote in his poem “Easter 1916” that after the rising, “All changed, changed utterly:/A terrible beauty is born.” Yeats admitted that he had had personal conflicts with one of the leaders of the rising, but acknowledged that by his deeds, “He, too, has been changed in his turn.” And echoing Pearce’s words about Cú Chulainn, Yeats asked of the rebels, “And what if excess of love/Bewildered them till they died?” To my mind, all of these quotes speak to a certain transcendent quality of the Rising that is difficult to pin down to any single religion or ideology. Does the heroism of the rising inform your own spirituality? Do you see a relationship between your gods and powers and the rising?

PSVL: The planners of the Easter Rising did their actions on that date very intentionally, and with superlative symbolic purposes in mind, by foregrounding the implied hope and renewal of Christian resurrection and the necessity of redemptive death in that process. However, symbolism of death and resurrection, even for redemptive and what can be called a “salvational” (but in a non-exclusively Christian valence) purpose is not unknown to polytheist religions throughout the world. I think it is probably more accurate to discuss any and all manifestations of Christian symbolism, thought, and practice from Ireland, from the fifth century up to the present, not so much as “primarily Christian” but as more “primarily Irish, secondarily/incidentally Christian,” since Irish Christianity always had (and still has!) things about it which are very different in comparison to the expected orthodoxies of Roman Catholicism.

I suspect that the great Irish heroes and deities were not “behind the R\rising” in a motivational sense, so much as very happy to support and participate in it with their descendants. Cú Chulainn and Finn mac Cumhaill, in addition to being idolized by Pearse and others, now both have some degree of public cultus in Ireland that they might not have had otherwise, and that has a knock-on effect for other divine beings in the Irish cultural sphere as well. Everlasting fame is an essential part of the Irish heroic ethos, and not only those who participated in the Easter Rising on the human level, but some of those on the divine levels as well, have reaped the benefits of this ever since.

MR: I didn’t connect my own spirituality to the Easter Rising much at all before visiting Ireland last year. I understood that for its participants, the rising carried these very Irish mythic themes of heroic valor, struggle for sovereignty, and sacrifice for one’s people. But until I spent time in Ireland, the rising itself didn’t figure directly into my personal practice and relationships with my gods. While there, I began having very distinct experiences with the gods, ancestors and Irish warrior dead that really centered that sense of the heroic, transcendent meaning of the rising, much more so than I expected. In Dublin, I was profoundly affected being at the battle sites, where the bullet holes can still be seen in the buildings and statues of O’Connell Street and other places. I very much felt the gods of Ireland, and the heroes of the rising, in strong and vocal presence there. I also experienced very vocal presences at the site where earlier resistance fighters had been executed, in what’s now St. Stephen’s Green. What became apparent to me in these places is that for the gods and the spirits of Ireland, this isn’t just history. It isn’t over. There is a sense of that same spirit of transcendent heroism waiting for its next moment to flower.

Bullet hole from 1916 on O'Connell Monument [Courtesy Photo Brennos Agrocunos]

Bullet hole from 1916 on the O’Connell Monument [courtesy photo Brennos Agrocunos]

I think that for practitioners in the spiritual diaspora, like myself, the relationship to Ireland’s lived history tends to be abstract ;we tend to focus on the ancient, not the recent. But when you go and spend time there, grounding your practice and devotional connections in that landscape, that abstraction dissolves. When you’re wandering around Dublin, and you encounter spirits of dead fighters of the rising who are speaking to you and saying, “You – there’s whiskey in your bag. Have a drink with me here and now,” – when you’ve shared whiskey with those spirits, you’ve entered into a relationship. I think that will be a lasting relationship for me and I’m still unpacking what that will mean.

HC: Cú Chulainn imagery has also been used by Unionists as a symbol of “Ulster’s defenders.” Obviously, this particular conflict is occurring more on the level of political propaganda than of Polytheist theology, but both sides of a given struggle claiming relationship with the same power happens to be a particular interest of mine. Do you see any theological implications in this conflict?

PSVL: I suspect that from the viewpoint of Irish heroes like Cú Chulainn, “fame is fame,” whether it is from one’s allies and devoted descendants or one’s adversaries, and in terms of his own associations and how these line up or don’t line up with modern political movements and governmental edifices, no one has a monopoly on these or a clear alignment one way or the other. “Unionist” and “Republican” have no meaning when applied to Cú Chulainn, even if “culturally Irish without foreign domination” (which would imply Republicans) and “the Ulaid” (which could imply Unionists) might apply to him. While there are traditional symbolic associations of the province of the Ulaid with “battle” in medieval Irish texts, some of which are held in high regard by modern practitioners of Irish forms of polytheism, I don’t think it is necessarily responsible nor required to view these symbolic associations as in some sense prophetic, divinely ordained, or in any way significant; especially if the people making such associations are not living in Ireland, and particularly in the areas of Ulster which have been most deeply impacted by these recent realities of violence and oppression.

HC: Fredy Perlman has brilliantly critiqued “The Continuing Appeal of Nationalism” for its premise that “every oppressed population can become a nation, a photographic negative of the oppressor nation.” He observes that “nationalism continues to appeal to the depleted because other prospects appear bleaker. The culture of the ancestors was destroyed; therefore, by pragmatic standard, it failed; the only ancestors who survived were those who accommodated themselves to the invader’s system.” Perlman was a vociferous critic of the “pragmatic standard” that he identified. As members of religions and spiritualities who do see value in “the culture[s] of the ancestors,” do you have any thoughts on this quote?

PSVL: I think Perlman’s observations are poignant; and yet, the notion of “failure” is somewhat problematic when applied to a lot of these situations, especially in mythic contexts. Heroic individuals do not get to live happily ever after; no true hero of Irish myth has their life end on a deathbed of an illness surrounded by adoring friends and family. An early death is often the lot of the hero, as the case was with Cú Chulainn. From a certain modern perspective, including those that can exist amongst modern polytheists who draw on Irish cultural elements for their inspiration, there is a deep misunderstanding of this reality, and thus a great lack of comprehension about what constitutes failure and thus what constitutes success as well. This is why so many people think that Cú Chulainn was “punished” by his death for transgressions against The Morrígan, which is as far from the reality as it is possible to get in many respects. Cú Chulainn knew what was in store for him the moment he committed himself to the warrior’s path at age seven, and his own heroic death was not a failure or a lapse in any way, it was a triumph toward which he looked forward. While this might even seem more bleak than what Perlman discusses, I think it’s important to realize this when looking at Irish — and, for that matter, any and all — premodern cultures. The appeal of some of these premodern cultures’ imagery and standards and legacy for oppressed peoples seeking nationhood is not something that can be critiqued, I don’t think, but it is also something that requires a nuanced understanding of which not many people might be capable, especially if they are not directly involved in the situations concerned and have no investments in those identities.

MR: I think there are some very problematic assumptions in this statement, both generally and with regard to the Irish nation and culture. First, I think a lot of Irish people might disagree with the notion that the culture of their ancestors was “destroyed.” This begs the question, “which ancestors?” The modern Irish population contains interwoven ancestries from the early indigenous pre-Celtic population, the Celtic or Gaelic Irish, the Vikings, the Normans, the Scots, and more. Which ancestors would we be thinking of? If the focus here is the Celtic Irish, which is what people tend to think of in terms of Ireland’s pagan past, I still don’t think it’s clear that that culture was totally destroyed. Very strong elements of ancestral belief and practice persisted in Ireland right through the Christian period and continue today, just as we often find that folk belief and practice preserve deeply pagan elements within monotheistic cultures everywhere. Ancestral folk practices like this often persist even through conquest because they provide meaningful benefit to the people, and because they tend to be far less visible than public religious ceremony. Far from being evidence of failure, it is precisely this deep resiliency and ability to persist that makes ancestral culture a source of strength and support for populations who are in a position of struggle against colonialism, erasure, and subjugation by a dominant power. The notion that “your culture, gods and traditions must be weak, or we would not have been able to conquer you” is imperialist thinking; traditional cultures would tend to measure the value of ancestral culture differently.

HC: Dominic Behan’s song “Come Out, Ye Black and Tans” links the Irish struggle against the British army and its auxiliaries to other colonial wars waged by the British:

Come tell us how you slew
Them old Arabs two by two
Like the Zulus they had spears and bows and arrows,
How you bravely faced each one
With your sixteen pounder gun
And you frightened them poor natives to the marrow.

Do you see connections between the Irish struggle and other struggles against colonization? If so, does this have an impact on your religion or spirituality?

James Connolly. Public Domain.

James Connolly. [Public domain.]

PSVL: Yes, and this is historically true today, too. There is great sympathy for the Palestinians in Ireland (though whether that is due to actual sympathy or to incipient anti-Semitism is another question entirely!), and there was also an alliance and empathy between the Irish in America and various Native American peoples and the African-American population. Peoples of indigenous mindsets and cultures always have more in common with one another, despite other cultural and linguistic differences, than with those who seek to oppress, colonize, and commit genocide against them. As a result, it is important to me in a religious setting to make those connections whenever possible, to seek to understand other indigenous peoples and their struggles, and to support them in whatever ways I might be able to, if such support is desired.

MR: I do see parallels between struggles against colonization and imperialism throughout the world. The notion of the sovereignty of a people -– the relationship between a people, its native landscape, its governance, and its autonomy relative to other peoples –- is deeply embedded in Irish myth and history, and this theme is articulated again and again in Irish literature from early mythology to works of modern literature. But these are themes that play out everywhere in our world. On the American continent, we have seen a resurgence of the language of sovereignty in the current struggles of indigenous/First Nations people against their continued erasure and subjugation by the United States and Canadian powers. The Idle No More movement speaks of sovereignty in strikingly similar terms to how I have seen it framed by Irish people in their experience of resistance. I think it’s interesting that in both of these cases, these struggles are seen by a lot of mainstream people as artifacts of history, as conflicts that came to a head and ended in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but when you talk to Native people here and Irish people, it’s clear that these struggles are not closed by any means.

For me, as a dedicant of the Morrígan and a practitioner of Celtic polytheism, this does impact my spiritual and religious life. Sovereignty as a spiritual principle and power is hugely important in my religious worldview, arising from Celtic traditions. In my understanding of the Morrígan’s role, She acts as a guardian or protector of sovereignty, and in support of the warrior function whose role is also to safeguard their society’s sovereignty. I can’t compartmentalize sovereignty as if it only existed in relation to individual personal sovereignty, and I can’t restrict it to the abstract. To fully engage with this crucially important aspect of my spiritual life, I have to also recognize it and engage with it in the world around me – in the political life of my own society, and that of others in the world.

HC: At his funeral oration for O’Donovan Rossa, Pearse said, “They [i.e. the English government] think that they have pacified half of us and intimidated the other half. They think that they have provided against everything: but the fools, the fools, the fools! — they have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.” This reminds me of Walter Benjamin’s observation that “not even the dead will be safe from the enemy, if he is victorious. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious,” which I always pair with his thesis that the spiritual dimension of class struggle “will, ever and anon, call every victory which has ever been won by the rulers into question.” Any thoughts on the relationship between the dead and the longevity and continuity of social conflicts?

PSVL: Interestingly, Chief Seattle’s 1854 Oration seems to have some similarities with these statements as well, and many Irish people ended up in the state of Washington in the late 1800s! I would not want to state anything categorically either way on this question, since I do not speak for the dead in this case; but, I don’t think the two can be separated — easily or otherwise — either. Ireland’s past, though — in terms of its ancestors, its deities, and its land spirits — is not quiet and never will be. I think it is no coincidence that the economic crash of 2008 impacted Ireland quite severely, and it fared worse than many other nations in Europe under those circumstances, and not long before that, the Irish government built a motorway through the Tara-Skryne Valley (the very seat of the sovereignty of Ireland) and destroyed many archaeological monuments of significance in the process. If the people of Ireland and their governments, as well as Irish-Americans and other Irish abroad in the diaspora, don’t wake up to the relevance and persistence of their heritage, I foresee things like this continuing well into the future. The dead may not have the final say on many things for the living, but to ignore that they have any say at all in our lives is a grave error, I think.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Coilhouse Issue #6

Coilhouse Issue #6

  • Excellent alternative culture magazine and blog Coilhouse is shutting down, though the creators are promising that this is a mere hiatus and that Coilhouse will return in some form in the future. Quote: “We can’t tell you what exactly is coming next, or when; we just know we have no intention of quitting. Potential directions that Coilhouse may move in somewhere down the line: books, apps, limited edition print/art objects, video, fashion collaborations. Smaller, more manageable one-shot projects that don’t break our backs. But first, we will have to re-strategize our business and production plans. Nothing is set in stone at the moment because, simply put, we need a break. We need to rest.” For now, they’ve made the six print issues of Coilhouse magazine available as free PDF downloads, a token of affection to fans and supporters. I highly recommend checking them out. 
  • Is the famous Celtic warrior-queen Boudicca buried beneath a McDonalds restaurant? It is rumored to be so. Quote: “Dr Mike Heyworth, the director of the Council for British Archaeology (CBA), said that experts are on the hunt for her burial place, at one point rumoured to be near what is now a McDonald’s restaurant in Birmingham, and he wouldn’t be surprised if she was unearthed in the next few years. There are contradictory but persistent tales (with “no element of truth”, according to the Museum of London) that she lies beneath either platform eight, nine or 10 at King’s Cross Station.” The big question is: what happens to her resting place once the bones are found? 
  • No, Easter was not originally the celebration of Ishtar. Let’s all be more critical of Facebook image memes, OK? 
  • At the Huffington Post Grove Harris discusses composting as a Springtime spiritual exercise. Quote: “Composting is in many ways one of the most spiritual of practices. It is the process that will feed the next cycle of life, which will take endings and serve new beginnings. It is powerfully renewing on many levels, and offers deep metaphoric guidance.”
  • Enforced celibacy doesn’t really work all that often, no matter what the religion/ideology is. The country of Bhutan is distributing condoms to Buddhist monasteries to stem the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Quote: “Warning signs of risky behavior among monks first appeared in 2009, when a report on risks and vulnerabilities of adolescents revealed that monks were engaging in “thigh sex” (in which a man uses another man’s clenched thighs for intercourse), according to the state-owned Kuensel daily.” So remember, use protection, make it available, no matter what the official rules are. 
The Joy of Sexus by Vicki León.

The Joy of Sexus by Vicki León.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of them I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Today is Easter/Pasha/Resurrection Sunday, when it is said that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion. Rather than give a barrage of “how pagan is Easter” type stories, I thought I’d leave you with a few non-Easter related links to look over today when you’re not busy finding eggs, eating candy, or dressing up like a witch.

Easter Witches in Sweden.

The Ganges in New York: The New York Times reports on how Hindus near Jamaica Bay in Queens, New York have turned the body of water into a local Ganges, a place to leave offerings for a variety of rituals. The problem is that the large number of offerings are disturbing the local habitat and creating an eyesore for park officials.

“We call it the Ganges,” one pilgrim, Madan Padarat, said as he finished his prayers. “She takes away your sickness, your pain, your suffering.” But to the park rangers who patrol the beach, the holy waters are a fragile habitat, the offerings are trash and the littered shores are a federal preserve that must be kept clean for picnickers, fishermen and kayakers. Unlike the Ganges, they say, the enclosed bay does not sweep the refuse away. The result is a standoff between two camps that regard the site as sacrosanct for very different reasons, and have spent years in a quiet tug of war between ancient traditions and modern regulations. Strenuous diplomacy on both sides has helped, but only to a point. “I can’t stop the people and say, ‘You can’t come to the water and make offerings,’ ” said Pandit Chunelall Narine, the priest at a thriving Ozone Park temple, Shri Trimurti Bhavan, who sometimes performs services by the bay. “We are at a dead end right now.”

The article does a good job of capturing the tensions as both sides try to find a workable compromise. I feel that as religions that engage directly with nature grow these tensions will continue. I anticipate that this will not be the last story I read about religious groups and law enforcement confronting how offerings impact a particular area.

A Queer Theology: In his latest column, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus confronts the “queerness” of theology within modern Paganism.

“I mentioned in an earlier article in this column that some modern Pagans have suggested that theology doesn’t really have a place in modern Paganism, and that Paganism as a religion isn’t really appropriate to the concerns of theology.  It was mentioned on that earlier occasion, though, that ancient Pagans in Greece and Rome invented most of the vocabulary of theology—including the term itself. The reservations of some modern Pagans on theology are understandable, and the ways in which Christianity has dominated the discourse on theology for the past several millennia are certainly a concern and something of which any Pagans actively engaged in theological work should be aware. Nonetheless, it is an area that is not only historically relevant to Paganism and polytheism, but one that is quite necessary to confront for modern Pagans.”

As always, Lupus is thoughtful an well-worth reading. Be sure to also check out his wonderful personal blog.

Who Gets Their Religious Freedom Protected: There’s a general election being held in Canada on May 2nd after the conservative government collapsed in a no confidence vote. It is in this context that Canadian Pagan and philosopher Brendan Myers looks at Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s plan to create an Office of Religious Freedom, and wonders whose freedoms it will work to protect.

“…given the Christian fundamentalism that dwells in the Reform Party’s agenda (pardon me, the Conservative Party’s agenda), therefore you can bet that this office will almost certainly not be used to help voudouisants in Africa, Tibetan Buddhists in China, Jews in Palestine or Muslims in Israel, or for that matter any religion at all which is not Christian. The only exceptions, the only non-Christian religions which this office might support in other countries, would be religious communities that are wealthy and well-organized enough in Canada to pressure the government to help their co-religionists in other countries.”

It seems that conservative Christian outlook in Canada isn’t too dissimilar from their brethren in the United States.

That’s all I have for now, have a happy Sunday, no matter what your activities or beliefs.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Just a few quick news notes for you this Sunday.

Altar of the Twelve Gods Update: Back in February I reported on how Greek Hellenic group Thyrsos Hellenes Ethnikoi has been protesting to preserve the famous Altar of the Twelve Gods, which was uncovered on February 17th during railway construction. Now Tropaion has an update, looking at how different Greek papers are covering the protests.

“The Kathimerini story did not claim that Polytheists were the ‘troublemakers’ in contrast of what To Vima clearly states that “members of polytheistic organizations, which had occupied the site where archaeological reburying work was undergoing for the antiquities.” It is important to note the language used by the newspaper To Vima which is clearly biased. It is also important to underline what Kathimerini notes that the reburying has been called “emerging” –  Central Archaeological Council has approved the reburial of the altar, faithful to the notion that the monuments are better protected hidden – as part of a renovation of the Metro line exactly were the altar exists which is one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of recent years.According to reports, citizens formed a cordon around the monument, which was split violently by the riot police who up to now patrol the site. The work had continued.”

You can read an April 13th update (in Greek) from Thyrsos Hellenes Ethnikoi, here. More on this situation (in English) here, here, here, and here. Petition, here. It looks like things are becoming heavy-handed in Greece, and reburial is moving forward. I’ll update when I have more information.

Vodou Flags, Vodou Culture: Gina Athena Ulysse, Assoc. Prof. of Anthropology, Wesleyan University, writes about Haitian Vodou flag-maker Myrlande Constant, who is part of a current exhibit entitled Re-Framing Haiti: Art, History and Performativity at Brown University.

Erzulie LaFlambeau by Myrlande Constant

“Born in 1970, Constant is a self-taught flagmaker whose artistry is rooted in her skills as a seamstress and the beading techniques that she learned from her mother as a child. While in her teens, both of them had worked in a wedding dress factory. Her foray into the world of flag making coincides with a story of self-emancipation from exploitative factory labor. In a public dialogue in Kreyol that I had with her at Brown last Wednesday, Constant recalls quitting her job at the factory over a compensation dispute. When her mother who still worked at the factory asked her what she would do, she responded, she didn’t know. She then found herself tracing the outline of what would eventually become her first flag, an homage toDanbala that was purchased by singer and bandleader, Richard Morse, also owner of the Hotel Oloffson, where the flag still hangs.”

The exhibition runs through April 21st, and will feature a talk by Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat at its closing. I also wanted to mention that Ulysse linked to a very interesting-looking new book in her article, “The Spirits and the Law: Vodou and Power in Haiti” by Kate Ramsey. The work looks at “the long genealogy of anti-Vodou rhetoric” in Haiti, and might be a must-read for those interested in gaining a deeper understanding of struggles Vodou currently faces.

Former Pagan on Easter’s Pagan Influences: Here’s a slightly unique take on the “pagan roots of Easter” story, the Patriot Ledger interviews Kendra Vaughan Hovey, a former reality-television star who converted from Wicca to Christianity, about bunnies, eggs, and Eostre.

“…as they follow those rituals, they will be evoking age-old, pre-Christian practices so familiar that few people give them a second thought. No one knows this better than Kendra Vaughan Hovey of Duxbury, a former Wiccan priestess who is now Christian. She sees reminders of her former religion at every turn this time of year, and she still embraces much of it. “It’s a holiday of new life,” she says of Easter. “There’s a beauty in that.” Hovey notes that even the name Easter has a pagan source – most likely from Ostara, the ancient Norse goddess of spring. Ostara’s festival was always around the spring equinox, which is still used to calculate Easter Sunday dates.”

I have to say, kudos to Lane Lambert at the Patriot Ledger for finding a new angle to this old chestnut of space-filling holiday-themed content. One wonders if this was accidental serendipity due to out-of-date source lists, or if it was planned. In any case, it was novel enough to gain my attention.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

It’s time for the Pagan hysteria watch, where we spotlight some stories and editorials that get a wee bit over-excited in their rhetoric. Let’s start with an obvious source, conservatives defining environmental activism, and agreement with the scientific consensus concerning climate change, as a “new paganism”.

“As many commentators and “global warming skeptics” have observed, climate science has metamorphosed into a religion—or, more accurately, a cult in religious dress. It has its high priests (Al Gore, David Suzuki, James Hansen, Rajendra Pachauri), its sacred texts such as computer models whose inconsistencies and disparities are blithely ignored by the myriads of true believers, its prevailing orthodoxies that cannot safely be questioned or violated…”

Yes, it must be a “religion”, because “more and more evidence is surfacing against global warming claims”, even though the majority of that “evidence” has been overblown and distorted in the media, and the scientific community is being increasingly bullied by activists and politicians for not changing their position on global warming. Maybe they want to prove it’s a religion by producing martyrs? In any case, while times are tough for Al Gore (a “high priest” of the “new paganism”), our current President doesn’t escape accusations that he’s involving us all in paganism!

“For some Americans, Easter is a religious holiday to pay homage to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, whom they consider to be the Son of God. But for President Barack Obama, this is a day to worship the environmental pagan goddess of ‘Mother Earth.’ No word yet, on whether the government-sponsored pagan worshippers at the Air Force Academy have been invited to attend ceremonies at the White House Easter Egg Roll ceremonies this year.”

When did the traditional White House Easter celebration become a ceremony for Gaia? Apparently when he decided to use environmentally friendly easter eggs in the ceremony! Gasp! Choke!

“A White House announcement Monday said the eggs at this year’s April 5 roll will be made from paperboard that contains no wood fibers from endangered forests, is recyclable and features vegetable-oil based inks and a water-based coating.”

Not paperboard! Nooooo! It’s like “The Wicker Man”, only not.

Of course “pagan” hysteria isn’t relegated to politics or scientific theories, real-live actual Pagans  also spark it. Just look at this bizarre story in the Queensland (Australia) Southern Star, which brings us the shocking story of two Pagan teenagers getting married … with the consent of their parents!

“A TEENAGER plans to marry a schoolgirl in a pagan ceremony next month with the bride’s mother officiating … Holland Park High School student Jenni, 16, said of the handfasting: “We’ll just see how it goes.” Jenni’s mother and pagan high priestess Sue Birch, of Lawnton, will perform the ceremony.”

Shocking! Wait, why is this a story again? Don’t teenagers get married with the consent of their parents all the time? This is obviously not meeting the desired hysteria quotient, better bring in a rabid anti-Pagan nutter to close out the article.

Pagan marriage is not recognised under Australian law, which stipulates those marrying must be 18 years or older. Christian Democrat Party leader and anti-pagan campaigner Reverend Fred Nile said: “(Handfasting) can’t be in any way acknowledged by the state and should not be listed as a genuine wedding. Our party will do what it can to stop pagan weddings and witchcraft or Wicca activities.’’

There we go, that’s better. We wouldn’t want things to get too reasoned and uncontroversial around here. But even if Wicca becomes utterly useless in drumming up hysteria, we’ll still have Santeria and Vodou to exploit.

“Raised in violent ghetto neighborhoods, Ramirez grew up despising his father for his careless disregard of his family. He learned to live like a street animal to survive the cold, harsh streets of the South Bronx. Looking for love and validation, he eventually found it in a new “family” of witches and warlocks who groomed him to become a high priest in their occult religion. Ramirez’s plunge into the dark side reached a boiling point on the night he sold his soul to the devil in a diabolical, blood-soaked ritual. With renewed fervor–and the mark of the beast now cut into his right arm–he actively recruited souls into this “unholy kingdom,” haunting the bars and clubs of NYC by night to find his next victims, including those who professed faith in Christ. His life continued on this dark path for 25 years until God intervened through a larger-than-life dream, revealing Himself for who He really is and snatching Ramirez back from the pit of hell.  Out of the Devil’s Caldron walks you through the dark alleys of the occult religions of Santeria, Palo Mayombe, and espiritismo (spiritualism) while exposing the hidden secrets of darkness.”

There’s always a new “other” to point the finger at, another form of “paganism” to demonize, wouldn’t want the fear and hysteria to die out would we? If we start having civil discussion about these issues, who knows what could happen? Maybe we’d all become Pagans?

While the actually holiday of Easter has little to do with pre-Christian traditions, that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been some unique blending of Christianity and different folk customs over the years. Time Magazine shares one of the more charming in their round-up of “10 Things You Didn’t Know About Easter”.

“Many of the things you don’t know about Easter have to do with odd, intensely national Holy Week traditions. So why not start off with the most unexpected one — the Easter Witch. In Sweden and parts of Finland, a mini-Halloween takes place on either the Thursday or Saturday before Easter. Little girls dress up in rags and old clothes, too-big skirts and shawls and go door to door with a copper kettle looking for treats. The tradition is said to come from the old belief that witches would fly to a German mountain the Thursday before Easter to cavort with Satan. On their way back, Swedes would light fires to scare them away, a practice honored today by the bonfires and fireworks across the land in the days leading up to Sunday.”

Easter witches! You can lean more about the tradition here, and here. Between this and Italy’s Christmas witch I’m starting to wonder if there isn’t a European Christian holiday somewhere that doesn’t involve some form of witches and children getting presents.

A few stories of note I wanted to share with you, starting with a development that has already been mentioned by a few heavyweights in the Pagan blogosphere, the destruction of altars to Santa Muerte in Mexico. Collatoral damage of the intensifying drug-war in that country.

“Mexican law enforcement won’t say it is targeting the “Santa Muerte.” But last month, army troops accompanied workers who used back hoes to topple and crush more 30 shrines on a roadway in the city of Nuevo Laredo, across the border from Laredo, Texas. Many were elaborate, one-story, marble-clad constructions with electric lighting and statues of the skeletal Death Saint. The sect’s archbishop, David Romo, denounced the destruction as religious persecution and demanded a meeting with President Felipe Calderon … “Sometimes people look down on us because we believe in her, but my faith is bigger than somebody looking down on me,” said America Melendez, a 24-year-old street vendor marching with a red-robed statue of the saint.”

Because Santa Muerte (Saint Death) is extremely popular among those who live in fear of violent death, it is popular both with drug-dealers and the communities plagued by them (though this recent destruction was supported by some local residents and officials). This psychological slash-and-burn tactic against the drug cartels may backfire on the government, making adherents believe the government isn’t interested in protecting their rights or safety.

I don’t know if you heard, but Easter is coming up this Sunday, and there are plenty of “pagan origins of Easter” stories littering the aggregators. But is Easter really “stolen” from the pagans? Christian History looks at the evidence and finds it lacking.

“The first question, therefore, is whether the actual Christian celebration of Easter is derived from a pagan festival. This is easily answered. The Nordic/Germanic peoples (including the Anglo-Saxons) were comparative latecomers to Christianity. Pope Gregory I sent a missionary enterprise led by Augustine of Canterbury to the Anglo-Saxons in 596/7. The forcible conversion of the Saxons in Europe began under Charlemagne in 772. Hence, if “Easter” (i.e. the Christian Passover festival) was celebrated prior to those dates, any supposed pagan Anglo-Saxon festival of “Eostre” can have no significance. And there is, in fact, clear evidence that Christians celebrated an Easter/Passover festival by the second century, if not earlier. It follows that the Christian Easter/Passover celebration, which originated in the Mediterranean basin, was not influenced by any Germanic pagan festival.”

Lest you think author Anthony McRoy is using biased sources, he generously quotes Ronald Hutton’s investigations into the history of Easter, and finds little evidence that Christians were trying to steal Eostre’s thunder. Of course that doesn’t mean that all those eggs and bunnies aren’t “borrowed” from pre-Christian folk traditions, but I think we can rule out wholesale holiday theft in this case.

In a final note, does a sickening crime against a child point to the spread of a growing anti-witch hysteria? A 10-year-old girl reported being beaten and sexually abused by a relative until she confessed to being a “witch”. The suspect, Emmanuel Beavogui, a native of Guinea here on an expired visa, was arrested and the alleged implements of his torture as well as a book on expelling demons was found in his home.

“The girl’s aunt told police that the youngster confided to her that Beavogui was beating her with a stick and accusing her of being a witch. The girl then told police a similar story, saying Beavogui pushed her against walls and recently struck her in the shins with a broomstick, which made her bleed. Police took photos of her injuries. The girl also said Beavogui beats her “until she confesses.” At Midwest Children’s Resource Center, which evaluates alleged child abuse, the girl said Beavogui had often given her baths when his wife was gone. During these baths, he would rub her vagina and scrub it with a plastic mesh — doing it so hard on one occasion that she bled, the girl told a nurse. After getting a search warrant for Beavogui’s home, police found two brooms, a wooden stick, a blue plastic mesh and the book about demons.”

Beavogui seemed cocky concerning his arrest, saying he could beat a “sexual charge” due to being married. He is currently out on bail, and his passport is being held while he awaits trial. The girl is in protective custody. While the abuse of children is always troubling, there seems to be something more here than mere abuse. I’ve noted that some extremist Christian elements lately seem quite comfortable adopting language and practices from the anti-witchcraft/occult hysteria-peddlers in Africa. Mix that with the fear, uncertainty, and doubt spread by the two-bit occult “experts” and concern-trolls and you have a potentially volitile mix that could endanger kids who don’t toe the line. Could the next “Satanic Panic” be focused on the children instead of in alleged defense of them? What happens when some of those quiverfull children don’t want to become culture warriors for their parents? Will they suffer extensive “exorcisms” as some children already have? Or something even worse?

The Easter season is usually a time when the press focuses on Christian-centric stories to capitalize on the most important holiday in the Christian liturgical calendar. But it is also a time for deep introspection on exactly where that darn spring-colored bunny carrying colored eggs came from.

“The legend of the Easter Bunny is far from a modern invention. Long ago, the rabbit was the earthly symbol of the pagan goddess Eastre, and was worshipped in the pagan festival of Eastre … The hare has long been a symbol of fertility and renewal of life – which fit in with the Christian tradition of Easter and the tradition of Easter eggs.”KNBC, Los Angeles

Yes its time for that persistent thorny question…

“Ever wonder what bunnies have to do with the Resurrection?”Rob Jenkins, Gwinnett Daily Post

Some Christian leaders take the bunny in stride, acknowledging that the Christian church has picked up some pagan baggage in its long history.

“Area religious leaders, including campus pastor Kent Kersey at Corban College, admit it’s a bit strange for churches to be using pagan symbols such as eggs and bunnies to deliver the Easter message. “But that’s part of the Evangelical heritage, the whole missionary understanding,” Kersey said, “to adopt cultural norms and share the Gospel through those means.” Easter celebrates the resurrection of Christ from the dead.”

Others aren’t so sanguine.

“The cliched traditions that accompany these two Christian events, from eggs to baskets, are merely paganism with a Christian face, seeing as they too have evolved out of non-Christian celebrations of the vernal equinox. At best, they distract us from the true meaning of Christ’s sacrifices in the desert, his death on the Cross and his Resurrection. At worst, they instill a modern form of paganism into an increasingly selfish and consumerist society that appears neither to care for the sacrifices of Christ nor to reflect earnestly and exhaustively on what salvation entails.”

For many it seems that a spring festival is a spring festival, and while some earnest attempts are made to attend church (and call it “Resurrection Day” instead of “Easter”), most families seem content with it being about family, a feast, colored eggs, and a semi-mythical hare.

“It really just depends on how religiously observant you are. Just remember that every time you sow a few seeds or plant a rose bush and make a small wish that they will grow, you are effectively taking part in a pagan celebration devoted to a pagan goddess named Eostre.”Terry Kirby, The Independent

I hope my Christian readers have a pleasant Easter, try not to worry too much about the tiny offerings to Eostre in the process.